Friday, March 21, 2014

Artemisia - International Herb Society Herb of the Year

By Carol Kagan, Master Gardener

Artemisia adds a silver touch to landscapes
The International Herb Society (IHS) official Herb of the Year™ for 2014 is Artemisia (Artemisia species).

There are over 300 species of Artemisia (Ahr-tuh-MIZ-ee-uh); each one has its own special features from height, leaf shape or color to aromas that range from clean and refreshing to acrid and repugnant. They are used for landscaping, cooking, and crafting. Their oils are used as insect repellents, perfume additives and are important ingredients in malaria medicines.
Artemisia species have a wide variety of heights and leaf textures, offering a range of landscape choices from borders to background plants. Artemisia plants can be as small as Silver Brocade (A. stelleriana), often called Dusty Miller, at six inches or as tall as Sweet Annie (A. annua) often reaching six feet. The silver, grey and green colors provide good backdrops to the more colorful plants in the garden.
While each species has its own growing requirements, most are perennials, hardy as far north as zone 4, prefer sun or partial sun exposure and like well-drained soil.
The culinary favorite, French Tarragon, is an artemisia
French tarragon (A. drancunculus) is the most well-known of the culinary artemisias. It is the main ingredient in French sauces and salad dressings and used in poultry dishes as well as tarragon vinegar. Although considered a bitter herb, wormwood (A. absinthium) is the primary ingredient in vermouth, absinthe liqueur, and used to flavor beer and wine.

Silver King (A. ludoviciana) and Powis Castle (A. arborescens ) are usually the silver color in many dried wreaths and flower arrangements. They are easy to dry and go with any color palette.
Silver King artemisia provides a background that shows off colors
Some artemisias have unpleasant scents and are put in sachets as moth and mosquito repellents while others with pleasing aromas are added to potpourris. In the language of flowers Artemisia represents dignity.

Sweet Annie provides a yellow-green leaf and small yellow flowers and is also good for dried crafting. For some, this herb has a pleasant fragrance but not for others. This plant was used historically as a medicine but it can produce allergic reactions, rashes and congestion in some individuals just by handling the plants. 
Flowers of Sweet Annie artemisia
Approved by the Federal Drug Administration and recommended by the Centers for Disease Control, the component artemisinin found in Artemisia annua (Sweet Annie is used for treatment of malaria, most often in combination with other drugs. This has been found to be as effective as quinine.
Are you interested in Artemisia plants? The Master Gardener plant sale on May 17 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. will feature both Silver King and Silver Mound plants as well as a variety of other plants grown and donated by members.
Also check out the The Herb Society of America (HSA) Notable Native Herb for 2014  -  Redring Milkweed (Asclepias variegate), our Blog entry on this plant,  and the Master Gardener’s Redring MilkweedProject.

Masters Gardeners, Penn State Extension, Franklin County have presentations, events and workshops throughout the year. To be added to the e-mail event schedule list, please email or call 717-263-9226.

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